Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
09 May 2011
Houston makes sense — and music — of Ariadne
Ariadne auf Naxos, the next major endeavor of the Richard Strauss/Hugo von Hofmannsthal collaboration after Der Rosenkavalier in 1911, has been a special challenge for American opera companies.
Much in the work depends on the wit of the Prologue, in which the richest man in Vienna demands that the evening’s performance in his home merge the planned comedy and tragedy in a staging to last not more than one hour. It would otherwise interfere with the fireworks — the heart of the evening, one gathers — that is to follow.
In the age before titles, the Prologue was sometimes performed in English; the opera in the intended German. Titles now bring home the egotism of singers who fight about dressing rooms and the frustrations of the idealistic young composer who sees his work devastated by the striking of a single note. More important, however, is the foreshadowing of the opera in the intense love that the composer comes to feel for coquettish commedia dell’arte Zebinetta, who in her fickleness seems everything that he and Ariadne are not.
Scored for a mere 35 instruments, Ariadne is — despite Wagnerian vocal demands — a chamber work that echoes the Baroque once dominant in Strauss’ native Bavaria. And it was Patrick Summers thorough understanding of these roots that accounted for the unusual radiance of the staging, seen on opening night of the five-performance Houston run.
This was an Ariadne of cultivated gentleness, in which reserve dominated and in the opera accounted for the seamlessness with which tragedy and comedy blended with such ease. Keeping Strauss’ sometimes runaway sensuality in check, Summers concentrated rather on the intimacy of the opera, drawing the audience into a story that in its intricacy identifies von Hofmannsthal as perhaps the greatest librettist in the history of opera. Conductor Summers, HGO music director, is now an established figure in the world’s opera houses, and here he showed again the polish and sophistication that he has brought to the company’s orchestra.
The central figure in the Prologue is the youthful Composer, a trouser role patterned after the Octavian of Rosenkavalier. In this country Susan Graham continues to hold the copyright on these roles. A dashing and exuberant figure, she played the art-and love-smitten composer with fervor and conviction and without exaggerated mannerisms. She clearly remains at the height of her vocal powers.
Christine Goerke, famous for her interpretation of such dark roles as Wagner’s Ortrud and Kundy and Verdi’s Eboli, brought richness to death-obsessed Ariadne in a performance made luminous by Summer’s disciplined approach to the score. The conductor deserves further praise for the transparency with which the nymphs who watch over Ariadne as the opera opens sang.
Over the past decade Texas-born Laura Claycomb has distinguished herself in works from Handel to Mahler and Britten. Without slighting the playful side of the role, she stressed that Zerbinetta — despite appearances — is looking for the one man to whom she might be true.
Bacchus, an unrewarding assignment, would be a supporting role, were he not needed to engineer the transcendence with which the opera ends. Sometimes a role for ageing Wagnerians — James King comes to mind, Alexey Dolgov is perhaps too young to play Bacchus. (The Siberian-born tenor made his HGO debut as Puccini’s Rodolfo in 2008.)
John Fanning as Music Teacher and Susan Graham as Composer
It is, however, the role itself that is problematic. Bacchus, at best a bit of a bumpkin, stumbles onto Naxos on the heels of heroic exploits, and — until he falls hopelessly in love with the abandoned Ariadne — doesn’t really understand what is going on there. Neither does Ariadne, who sees him as the envoy of Death. Thus the two sing at cross purposes at the outset of the duet that ends the opera. Nonetheless, one felt that Dolgov had been miscast — the single blemish on the otherwise enviously engaging performance. Of course, one knows Strauss’ antipathy for tenors, and Dolgov’s shortfall underscored that this — like Rosenkavalier — is a womens’ opera.
One left the Wortham with heart warmed by Goerke’s deeply internalized delivery of Ein Scho”nes war and “Es gibt ein Reich” and awed by the effortlessness with which Claycomb proved herself an ideal Zerbinetta.
Boris Zyakov as Harlequin-and Laura Claycomb as Zerbinetta
Six of the seven youthful singers cast as nymphs and commedia dell’arte clowns were current HGO studio artists, underscoring the high professional standards of that program.
All in all an Ariadne to treasure, the production not only concluded the present HGO season, but further brought down the curtain on Anthony Freud’s all too brief tenure of the company’s general director. (Freud arrived in 2006.) Freud succeeds William Mason at the helm of Chicago Lyric Opera.